Deus Ex This Early?
Early morning cold drifted under the tent’s badly secured bottom and prodded nastily at Gray’s groggy head. He spent a while trying not to open his eyes, despite the thin light that played red upon his lids. Despite everything. The worst thing was that the draught, which was strong enough to get right under his clothes was still not enough to dislodge the raw animal smell that lingered nastily within the tent. Gray did his best to ignore that too.
His head was not the only thing that hurt. His legs were stiff from all the riding and his side ached from where he’d slept, or, more correctly, dropped into an alcoholic abyss, on nothing more than a bit of wildebeest leather stretched out across the bare soil. That was where some, but not all, of the smell had come from, at least. In fact, the tent itself was made of the same material, but it too hadn’t caused the full cocktail of aroma that Gray was trying not to think about in too much detail.
‘So, you’re awake, then?’ said a voice. It was a young, male voice. It was the voice of T’Dore, the tribesman that Gray had saved from death yesterday during the unseasonable stampede of the wildebeest.
Gray tried to shut it out, but T’Dore kept talking. ‘You can’t fool me, he said. ‘I know that you got up to quite a bit last night, but you’re under the Dogstar now. I can see what you’re hiding. I know that you’re awake.’
Gray didn’t like to think about what that meant, ‘under the Dogstar,’ just right now. He added it to the list of things to ignore. He had very little recollection of the hours before he must have been led, ratted, into this tent, other than a low level pervasive sense of shame. He assumed that that went hand in hand with his mouth tasting of mould and sour earth. And the headache. Gray turned over. ‘Where is my brother?’ he managed.
‘Up already’, T’Dore said. ‘Washed and dressed and talking with my father and my sister,’ finished with a smile.
Gray groaned and wondered how it was that he always managed to do things the wrong way round. He hoped that Gret was keeping to his side of the bargain.
‘Do not worry,’ the boy said politely. ‘You are our honoured guest. Today, you have the freedom of our campsite. You can do exactly as you wish. I...’ T’Dore paused for a moment. ‘We talked, a lot, if you remember,’ he said. ‘I was only here because I wished to watch over you, during the night.’
Gray managed to push himself onto his elbows and some slight way towards being upright.
‘As part of my duties.’
Gray had been thinking of him as a boy for most of yesterday, but with the unguarded mind of the hung-over Gray suddenly saw that they were pretty much of the same age. Gray tried very hard to feel manly.
‘And, when I got to the place where my brother had said that he would be, that was when I saw the carnage.’ Gret was speaking seriously with the Dogstar elder. ‘And I saw the great courage of my little brother.’
‘His courage is truly exceptional,’ the elder intoned, ‘and we are grateful, very grateful for his acts. The clan of the Dogstar will always honour the brave, whoever they are, wherever they are from. That is our way. But this is bad news. Bad news indeed.’ He looked unhappily at the horizon, and Gret, glancing away from the old man’s pain, stole a smile from his fair daughter who sat to the side. For, despite the three graves that had been dug the night before the cycle of life must needs go on. And on. And so on.
‘Such unseasonal stampedes must have some cause,’ the elder continued. ‘Some upset in the natural way of things behind them. You say that you did not see what could have caused such behaviour when you arrived at your hunting ground? You say that you saw nothing to explain the way of things?’
‘I saw nothing concrete,’ Gret said. ‘But even above the disconcerting signs of the stampede I saw much that disturbed me. I may not have travelled this far west before, but I know enough of what the land should look like at this time in the year. And it should not have looked like that.’
As Gret was talking Gray emerged from his tent and came slowly over to the ashes of the Great Fire, the spiritual centre of the tribe as well as the physical centre of the encampment, around which the morning meeting was being held. On seeing him the elder broke his sombre mood and clapped his hands together, cutting off any further information that Gret might have had just for then. ‘A-ha!’ he laughed, somewhat too heartily. ‘Look who it is, at last. The hero has awoken. At last, at last. Come and sit with us and,’ and he fished a piece of bark from the pouch at his side and handed it to Gray as he came close,’ take this and chew on it for a while. It will clear your head,’ he said. ‘It will clear your head and your mouth of the fuzz that envelop them I am sure.’ He even grinned.
Gray took the bark gratefully and then slumped beside his brother where he began to chew with a mournful expression upon his face. The elder slapped him cheerfully on the back and said. ‘you will make a worthy life companion to my boy. I don’t doubt that you’ll give him plenty of opportunities to work off his life debt to you. The brave honour the Dogstar, and the Dogstar honours the brave. Yes. Yes yes.’
And so on.